SIPTU has warned that vulnerable children are being placed at increased risk due to severe cuts to Early Years services in areas of disadvantage across the country due to the imposition of substantial reductions in funding by the State agency POBAL. SIPTU Head of Organising and Campaigns, Darragh O’Connor, said: “The financial viability of the Early Learning and Care service in many areas of disadvantage is being undermined due to funding reductions. Recent attendance assessments by POBAL, the state funding agency, has led to a reduction in funding for many services in disadvantaged areas. “Many families in such areas find themselves in challenging or chaotic situations which can affect the  attendance of children at services. The lack of flexibility in the assessment process used by POBAL to take into account the circumstances of children in these situations is in turn undermining the financial viability of services and their ability to deliver vital supports.”   Darndale Belcamp Integrated Childcare Service manager, Kelda Barnes, said: “Our service has been affected by a cut of almost €100,000. We are now faced with two options, to either reduce staff wages, cut working hours and services or we increase the fees for parents. The first option greatly undermines services and the second option puts an increased burden and pressure on the families we are trying to support. While we must ensure that public money is properly spent and accounted, for it is also necessary for allowances to be made in any assessment process for the possibility of the increased absenteeism of children from families living in disadvantaged areas.” Early Years Manager and SIPTU activist, Mick Kenny, said: “Overly strict timekeeping and rules do not take into account the challenging circumstances some families face and will only reduce the services we can provide. Decades of work is at risk with basic services such as providing hot meals, parenting supports and early intervention services under threat.” Early Years manager, Catherine Lennon, said: “Our service is specifically set up to support children from disadvantaged areas. However, to remain financially viable we will have to focus on children who we know will show up on time every day. This means less attention being paid to children who need our support the most.”   Darragh O’Connor said: “We need the Government to deliver on its commitment for a specific model for Early Years services in areas of disadvantage similar to the DEIS model for primary schools. The Government committed to such a model in First 5: The Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families published in 2018. However, until this is implemented the funding of Early Years services in areas of disadvantage must be maintained at current levels.”